Film And Movies

What Went Wrong With… Stowaway (2021)?

A review of Stowaway on NetflixStowaway is a science fiction thriller written by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison and directed by Penna. Showing on Netflix from today, the on-screen blurb describes this movie as “A three-person crew on a mission to Mars faces an impossible choice when an unplanned passenger jeopardizes the lives of everyone on board”. This description makes the film sound exciting but what we instead have is a morose drama. Aside from being set in a spaceship, this flick barely qualifies as “science fiction” and it isn’t exactly a “thriller”. Stowaway has the plodding pace of something like Ad Astra and the self-importance of Interstellar. Given the plot which purports to be about human endurance and scientific creativity, this doesn’t even have the upbeat positivity of something like The Martian either. Instead we the audience are faced with an un-enthralling and rather boring space movie that skirts around weighty issues such as survival, sacrifice, and euthanasia but where every character keeps talking each other to death.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The film stars Toni Collette who plays Marina Barnett, the ship’s commander, Anna Kendrick plays Zoe Levenson, a medical researcher, Daniel Dae Kim plays David Kim, the ship’s biologist, and Shamier Anderson plays Michael Adams, the stowaway and launch support engineer. Despite a decent cast (everyone aside from Kendrick) there’s no real emotional engagement from the characters. Since you don’t feel invested in them in any way, you don’t care if they live or die. This is all down to the director. Joe Penna’s still, almost point and shoot direction prevents this story from being moving or intriguing when it could potentially have been, although that being said, a 3D-printed arm cast, dying algae, and a shot of Pentobarbital isn’t exactly peril. An injection where you feel no pain and simply fall asleep and die? My thoughts were “hand it over”. It’s not exactly sacrifice to have your final forty winks in space; it’s as good a death as any. The fictitious company responsible for this death-in-space debacle is named “Hyperion” because I assume NASA doesn’t want to be seen as murderers (although given The Challenger disaster they were practically manslaughter-ers).

I have no idea what the point of this film is since space movies have been done to death with nothing interesting or innovative being added to the genre this side of the millennium. It’s a 2 year mission to Mars (yawn) their oxygen is depleting (yawn) they have to go outside the spaceship and stick this thingumabob into that thingamajig (yawn). Apart from a few tears from the actors, none of the “difficult” decisions feel difficult; injecting yourself, having a bit of a space walk… just get on with it! The movie ends with Zoe saying why she applied to the doomed mission but even that doesn’t feel emotional.

So what is this film trying to convey? Not poignancy and definitely not realism. Their module can sustain two or three lives but not four. Oh well, abort the mission and get back to Earth, since they’re still docked in a space station not too far from our planet by the looks of things. But no, they’ve gone “too far” to turn back apparently, despite Earth being visible through their window.

After a CGI’d necklace during the opening, the artificial gravity is immediately activated because the budget doesn’t allow for weightlessness I guess. This is a cheap TV movie that would have looked even worse had it been shown in the cinemas and the repetitive stringed score doesn’t make you feel cinematic-ally riveted either. The main issue however is not the setting or the sounds; there’s almost zero thrills thanks to the drab direction which never puts you in harm’s way and this makes for a dull sci-fi film that’s best avoided.

I feel the need to reiterate that both writing and direction really are sub-par. There’s a solar storm warning followed by a shot of a hand for what feels like thirty seconds, there’s talking, and more talking including a conversation about the merits of Jazz music, there’s fiddling with instruments without telling the audience what they are, having chats with mission control but never hearing their voices… it all adds up to a lifeless movie… which could have been apt, but not in the hands of Mr. Penna.

Stowed Well Away.

Writing: 3/10

Directing: 3/10

Acting: 5/10

Overall: 3/10

11 replies »

  1. “But no, they’ve gone “too far” to turn back apparently, despite Earth being visible through their window.”
    Not “too far”, they were going “too fast”.

    Do you even know what delta-v is? Go play some KSP and you’ll soon see that the fact that they could not stop and turn around was about the only realistic aspect of this rediculous depiction of space travel.

    • I never claimed I was an expert in spacecraft flight dynamics. I’m a critic, I just sat down to watch a film about space. It was the writer/director’s job to explain to us laymen through dialogue/props/scenery etc. why they couldn’t stop their spin and go home but he obviously failed, hence the plot outline in IMDb:

      “The crew of a spaceship headed to Mars discovers an accidental stowaway shortly after takeoff. Too far from Earth to turn back and with resources dwindling, the ship’s medical researcher emerges as the only dissenting voice against the group that has already decided in favor of a grim outcome”

      I’m so so so sorry that I didn’t take an online course in rocket science and memorize this formula before writing my review 🙄

      Delta-V

    • The premise was very intriguing but oh my god what a pathetic waste of talent and money.
      It’s not like I expected ultra realism but after a somewhat depicting the gravity roll everything goes to hell for example :
      -A probably very expensive mission that span for months in deep space , you don’t have a minimum redundancy or spare part of a vital part of the ship that is the CO2 scrubber? that’s bs
      – Complete inaccuracy and confusion over CO2 and O2 : the CO2 scrubber (that removes the CO2 that builds up) broke down, but then along the way inexplicably the problem becomes the lack of O2 as there’s only for 2 people (meaning that somehow they also managed to lose almost 2 year worth of oxygen (give or take a bit more than 600kg of O2) and the problem with CO2 will solve itself “venting it” like you can just put the 540kg or so CO2 produced in those 5 months in a closet (remember the CO2 scrubber is dead) and somehow you can only “vent” it when you are around Mars.
      -You don’t have to be an astronaut to wonder of it’s possible to cram a “year and half worth of O2 for one person ” in a tank like that, it would not be possible due to the small volume of the tank and the weight that would be massive.
      -How that possible to convert plants into micro-algae?
      -Why the hell in a mission that important and long they are basically left to their own devices by ground control that give absolutely no decisional help and the last “solution” was not give not by them, not by the captain, but by…the doctor…. . Jesus in the ISS every part of the “day” is basically managed by ground control and they even know when you go to the loo and how much it “weights”.

      The astronauts also are not particularly likeable and more importantly not believable and odd, for a mission that is supposed to be long and in space where veteran and highly selected and trained astronauts are chosen but then you have :
      -A cranky and nervous “veteran” captain that is undecisive and has less initiative and less control of the situation than the other crew
      -The “biologist” that….throws up ..really ?
      -The doctor is the most inexplicable one ,she’s supposed to be a person that studied many years to become a doctor and attain various specializations , and then she decides for the sake of her research to sacrifice 2 years of her life after undergoing at least the basic training for astronauts long 2 years. While she’s human with her emotions, I expect her to be a person determined, calculating, focused , that pose a lot of weight on her research (like the biologist) because se literally used half of her life so far for her research sake. not somebody that after the docking jumps up and down cheerfully like a 2 year old that play jokes then becomes all “Maria Theresa” when the stowaway life put theirs in danger and the play the ultimate sacrifice for him and then it’s suggested to the spectator that after what she did in her life it’s somehow natural for her to sacrifice herself for the stowaway.

    • I feel compelled to comment on this article because Stowaway annoyed me for the same reason a bunch of other films have wound me up lately: the lack of logic in the basic premise. The premise of a film is one of the most important parts because it’s the foundation upon which everything rests. you can have brilliant acting, a great-looking spaceship and amazing music but if the film tries to sell itself as sci-fi regardless of a premise with giant gaping holes then I can’t enjoy it. if people keep accepting poorly planned garbage and calling it brilliant then filmmakers are going to keep serving up warm diarrhea because there’s no incentive to do otherwise.

      The second I realised that this film was attempting to wring tension and drama from the lack of oxygen on the ship, I started to lose interest. Are these guys seriously saying that an obviously massive and technologically advanced private corporation capable of fabricating a spacecraft of this scale wouldn’t find SOMEWHERE on board to stash, say, ten spare oxygen generators or a bunch of the tanks like the one Anna Kendrick had to go out and get barbecued in order to retrieve? The narrative made it clear that this one tank she ventured into the void for had a ridiculous amount of oxygen in it – enough to save three people on a really long trip – and it wasn’t very big… so why wasn’t there a store room packed with them? And how did that gut’s ten trays of algae make enough oxygen to sustain one person? Why did the algae suddenly die? Why would you send three people out in a craft that generates enough oxygen for exactly three people? Why, why, why?

      I get that I’m rambling now but the reason I’m so irritated with films now is that these issues aren’t difficult to get around. For example, the premise could have been that they had ample oxygen but one of the crew got space madness and threw them all out of the airlock, leaving them on bare bones supplies. Not great, but it makes more sense! Or they could’ve had an asteroid hit the section of the ship with all the reserve tanks in it. Something other than what they did, which was ‘Yeah, so there’s a massive ship with all kinds of amazing technology but not very much oxygens for… reasons… and if they get one tank from outside it’ll be OK’. I wish these content creators would spend just a week in a room brainstorming and ironing out stories issues BEFORE they rush all the stars in from of the cameras. Because currently piss poor efforts abound.

  2. Couldn’t disagree more. I can’t speak to the realism of the science, but I thought the movie presented a really compelling moral dilemma and some truly intense scenes at the end. My heart was in my throat. Personally, I’ll take an human drama with earned tension over an action thriller any day of the week, even if the pace may be slow for others.

  3. So i have to agree vittoria, but i wanted to add few things.
    I know it wasn’t meant to be a super realistic movie, however if you are tagging a movie as a science-fiction, I think you have to back up your story
    1) There was no feeling of g force during launch, only vibration was present.
    2) The launch was too quick, and they reached 70 km altitude just like that, and then they didn’t stop there and just injected themselves in a mars transfer orbit??. what was that, you cant just inject yourself into mars transfer orbit, first you would park on a low earth orbit, and check if everthing is ok, after that you would start the mars transfer orbit injection burn on the scheduled day.
    3) Engineer who bangs his head and finds himself in the spacecraft? I think movie is on the wrong genre, It should be comedy. At any space company/agency, there are checkers who checks the checkers before the launch. so they don’t notice guy gets sandwiched between Life support unit, plus they screw him in place 🙂
    4) I’m sorry Delta-V thing is real, you wouldn’t just “go back” to earth after you injected yourself into mars transfer orbit. however that would be perfectly possible and even feasable thing to do if they were parked on the low earth orbit.
    5) Throwing up astronaut was a bit of no go.
    6) At some point they said something like “reached 5g”. At 5g you couldn’t even talk like that easily. you have to start controlling your breath. furthermore, this sentence was said on the kingfisher, whilst spinning. so i presume: in order to sustain 1g on the habitat, they had to spin kingfisher in such a way that a person experiences 5g on its surface. if this is true,
    firstly the spinning point should not be at the midpoint.
    secondly you can’t just go and pick that oxygen bottles at 5g that easily can you?
    when they went to kingfisher they experienced only 1g.
    7) solar wind scene was really exaggerated, both visually and magnitudinally. you wouldn’t see “northern lights” on a deep space mission.
    I really liked the interiors and visuals, other than that it was a lot of drama which I’m not going to comment much.
    Overall the movie had so much potential, but eventually they wasted it.

  4. On top of these comments, I question the physics of the artificial gravity. It spinning in space, a canister on a string would not be dangling downwards, it would experience centrifugal force. Thus if not connected to a surface, it would be thrown out harder and harder.

    Thus you would also not see a dropped canister fly away from you as the moment the canister is released, it would fly in a straight line, whereas the ship would continue to rotate.

    Additionally I fail to see how “touching the pv line in space would be bad. I assume it would be insulated. And where would the current go?

    Scientifically and ethically not a very good movie.

  5. The best part of watching this movie was reading your review. So spot on. We laughed out loud multiple times at your astute and hilarious call outs. Thank you for saving our night.

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